University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Offenbach: Les Contes d'Hoffmann

10/27/2013 1:00 pm
10/27/2013 4:30 pm

Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

Would you believe, over the course of three decades of opera broadcasting I have never broadcast this opera! The opportunity came along to finally do so when our station's classical record library recently received an historic recording of this work issued through Sony Classical in its series "The Metropolitan Opera."

Sony has digitally processed the mono or early stereo sonics of the old reel-to-reel tapes in the Met's archives for release in CD format. These are actually airtapes of radio broadcasts of live stage performances from more than half a century ago. The tapings document an era often regarded as the Golden Age of opera singing.

Jacques Offenbach died in 1880 before he could finish writing his greatest lyric stagework, Les Contes d'Hoffmann, a succession of our interrelated tales of comic fantasy in four acts. No one is entirely sure what Offenbach's final intentions were for the score that his colleague Guiraud revamped and largely orchestrated. The Choudons edition of the score that has come down to us is corrupt, but audiences have always loved "The Tales of Hoffmann" in this form, with its various interpolated numbers. 

That was the way it was produced at the Met and recorded for posterity on December 3, 1955. One of the all-time greatest French maestros, Pierre Monteux, directed the Metropolitan Opera orchestra and chorus. In the title role was the Met's resident tenor Richard Tucker. Reviewing the 2011 Sony release for Fanfare magazine, James Miller writes that casting Tucker as the lovelorn German poet was no mistake... he's such an exuberant, impassioned Hoffmann that he actually brings this irresponsible, reckless romantic to life. . ." Miller goes on: "I have heard this recording from other sources but never this vivid... its star-studded cast delivers the goods..."(Fanfare, March/April, 2012).